The Kills: Midnight Boom

Music Reviews
The Kills: Midnight Boom

Trace elements of Royal Trux + some Spank Rock mojo = bloodsugarsexmagic

Growing up on the playgrounds of Long Beach, Calif., there was a rhythmic game the girls used to play in a circle at recess called “Pizza Pizza Daddy-O.” The gist of the game was to mimic a complex series of hand/body claps and dance steps while simultaneously chanting along to a song that changed slightly every time it was sung:

Mary (or whatever the name du jour was) had a baby, (reply) Pizza pizza daddy-o
How do you know it? Pizza pizza daddy-o
’Cause she told me, Pizza pizza daddy-o
What’s his name? Pizza pizza daddy-o
Jesse James, Pizza pizza daddy-o
Let’s jerk it, Pizza pizza daddy-o
Let’s swim it, Pizza pizza daddy-o
Let’s skate it, Pizza pizza daddy-o
Let’s freak it, Pizza pizza daddy-o
(add more improv, girls taking turns in the middle of the circle demonstrating the various dance steps, and you get the general idea).

As it happens, the California State University system commissioned an 18-minute black-and-white documentary back in the ’60s that captures on film not only this game but countless others played by black girls on a playground somewhere in Los Angeles. The film is called—wait for it—Pizza Pizza Daddy-O. This same film somehow found its way into the consciousness of The Kills’ British guitar-slinger Jamie “Hotel” Hince and his devastatingly destroyed-looking vocal sidekick, American expat Alison “VV” Mosshart, who were so inspired by the film’s “Hey, Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind” cheer template that they applied it to the songs on their third album.

What’s slightly weird—and wonderful—about this development is that The Kills are, first and foremost, a garage-rock act in the classic boy/girl mold. By now you’ve read the memo: Central Casting finds a pair of misfit art-school types, maroons them somewhere by a random twist of fate and/or airline schedules, they pledge allegiance to one another artistically if not sexually (the better to tease you with the tension, especially if they ridiculously pretend to be brother and sister), and the resulting lo-fi maelstrom finds its way into the hearts/minds of outsiders the world over. Add suitably stripped-down color scheme; lather, rinse, repeat.

So for those of you who’ve found yourselves enamored of the sneering, sexy snarl The Kills so expertly whipped up on their first two albums, fear not—you’ll still discover plenty of your beloved scuzz-rock blues all over this NEW one. It’s just that, on Midnight Boom, it’s now served over a bed of bouncing beats born of the hardscrabble playgrounds of Inner City U.S.A. (which, as Marvin Gaye once sang, makes me wanna holler). VV can still channel Patti Smith—or even more accurately, Royal Trux’s Jennifer Herrema—like a champ, tossing off damaging one-liners with delicious callousness (“It’s alright to be mean—I want expensive sadness”; “Time ain’t gonna cure you honey / Time don’t give a shit”) while playing Bonnie to Hotel’s Clyde with just the right degree of insolence. For his part, Hotel hasn’t altered his angular playing style, plunging plenty of cut-glass shards into the heart of the album’s best songs—the fiercely rocking “Hook and Line”; the dissonant and disturbing “M.E.X.I.C.O.C.U.,” a travelogue of sorts about the pair’s misguided attempt to escape the rigors of recording by heading south of the border during hurricane season— but taking pains to ensure they slide neatly into the album’s more rhythmic context, provided by Spank Rock producer Alex “Armani XXXchange” Epton. Imagine an electro remix of “Sweet Jane,” and you’re more than halfway there.

In less talented hands, the dozen songs on this record easily could have sounded like a failed, high-concept art thesis, and to be perfectly objective, not every track really kills (“Alphabet Pony” features perhaps the band’s 100th use of the word “pony” in song—time to grab a thesaurus, kids). But the album’s final two tracks—the slinky Velvets-with-a-beatbox “What New York Used to Be” and the bewitching Mazzy Stones country-blues ballad “Goodnight Bad Morning”—demonstrate that true artisans don’t necessarily need more tools in their box to make magic. Whether cutting a dance track or cutting a diamond, the great ones just need enough time to carve deep enough to let the light come streaming from the dark heart of the rock.

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